After a long, cold, weird winter, it is finally spring! How do I know? The Madison Farmer’s Market is open on the square! Growing up in Madison with my mom, who is now a Master Gardener, the Farmer’s Market was almost a weekly event…at least in my memory. Mom wanted to get there as soon as possible in order to get the best plants. I remember walking around the Capital Square after mom woke us up before dawn on Saturdays to get to the market early, sometimes amid snowflakes! I also remember people huddled around trucks in the pre-dawn and claiming plants as they were unloaded, the “best” plants never even making it to the stands. After our early morning plant-grab, we were free to take things a little more slowly. That was when we got to eat doughnuts and pastries (I remember my favorite at the time, chocolate eclairs, and chocolate covered strawberries that, again, in my memory, were almost baseball-sized!) We would drink cider and buy delicious produce like sugar snap peas, sweet corn, and apples.
Now that I’m all grown up, for someone who gets raging cabin fever in the winter and is a total food geek, the return of the Farmer’s Market is quite an event. But where my mother was mostly about the flowering plants, I am about the food! I buy produce and potted herbs and vegetable plants, and I indulge in a morning pastry! Fortunately, I have successfully converted Chad to a Farmer’s Market junkie, too, and we do what I assume others junkies do; the first lap around the Capitol is to window shop and the second lap is to buy. But the market isn’t the only attraction; there are always other things going on as well; this week we saw the Forward band playing on the street and a couple doing some pretty impressive 2-person yoga on the capital lawn. (I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to getting Chad interested in yoga!)
For my first farmer’s market recipe of the year, I am using something I didn’t even eat as a child…arugula! It is a very flavorful green. People call it peppery, and that’s no joke; it tastes like spinach that has had actual pepper added to it! The recipe I make with it is something I “stole” from a restaurant in New Orleans. I ordered it, tried it, and loved it, so I tinkered until I came up with something close. You can find similar recipes online, but this one is a simple salad with few ingredients and an intense flavor! (Really, this salad packs a punch; it can be made more or less spicy by the amount of spices used.)
- 8-10 oz arugula (about 6-8 cups)
- 8 oz buffalo mozzarella: I prefer the pearl form if you can find them. Use more if you like it REALLY cheesy and creamy.
- Pepper: 1/2 t if its a strong, freshly ground pepper. If its regular table pepper, use up to 1 t.
- Red pepper flakes: 1/2 t if they are hot flakes (I buy Penzeys hot flakes) or 1 t if they are mild, which is what usual grocery store flakes are.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Rinse and drain the arugula well. If you use greens that are too wet, the dressing doesn’t coat the leaves as well. Place in a large bowl.
- Separate the mozzarella pearls (“pearls” just means they are in the form of small balls) and scatter in the bowl. If you don’t have the pearls, dice your mozzarella into 1/2 inch cubes.
- Add the remaining four ingredients. If you are unsure of the strength of your spices, start with smaller amount and taste before adding more.
- Use a tongs to mix the salad well. The larger the bowl, the easier it will be to mix without salad flying everywhere. Take the time to mix well, as the leaves can clump together and the cheese will fall to the bottom. You will be rewarded with a well-coated salad.
- Enjoy! This salad would ideally be served at the time its made. It can be served as leftovers, but note that the lemon juice will start to wilt the arugula slightly, so while the taste is the same, the greens will be softer.
The good news is that you can buy arugula at many grocery stores now, so you could make this salad all year round, but I feel buying and eating it seasonally gives you even more of that peppery taste. The great flavor of this green, not to mention the other ingredients in this dish, helps to satisfy your taste buds more than tasteless iceberg lettuce ever could…no need to pour on the sugar-, salt- and fat-laden dressings here! Thank you, farmers!
More notes on arugula: You can easily grow arugula at home, from seed or plants that many garden shops and greenhouses carry. For more information on arugula, check out the More Matters website.